Global Policy Forum

Foreign Team Will Watch Vote in Iraq From Jordan


By Joel Brinkley

New York Times
December 23, 2004

Representatives of seven nations met in Ottawa this week to recruit international observers for the Iraqi elections and agreed to watch the vote, but from the safety of Amman, Jordan. They said it was too dangerous to monitor the voting in Iraq, meaning international observers are unlikely for the elections on Jan. 30 - making them the first significant vote of this sort recently with no foreign presence, United Nations officials say.

The United Nations, the European Union and many nongovernmental groups involved in election and democracy projects are helping to organize and administer the vote. As a result, they argue, acting as monitors would be a conflict of interest. The United States, a senior State Department official said, "will have as low a profile as possible during the election."

Specialists and officials involved in foreign elections say international monitors are a crucial tool for ensuring that difficult elections are seen as free and fair, as shown recently in Afghanistan and Ukraine. Foreign observers in Afghanistan diffused the controversy over the ink used on some ballots; some candidates had said the ink used for fingerprints could easily be removed. Foreign observers in Ukraine, including Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, countered the government's contention that its candidate had won the election, despite widespread fraud.

When Canada agreed early this month to convene a group of nations - Canada, Britain, Indonesia, Mexico, Panama, Albania and Yemen - to examine the question of observing the elections, officials in Washington and at the United Nations were hopeful that the impasse on recruiting international monitors might finally be broken. Carina Perelli, a senior United Nations official, who said she had been "pleading" for volunteers to monitor the elections, called the Canadian effort "critical."

But after the two-day meeting ended Tuesday, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada's chief electoral officer, said that the group would send few if any people into Iraq, due to the danger. "We are not calling this an observation mission," he said. "It is an assessment mission."

Mr. Kingsley said his new organization of election officials from several nations will form relationships with Iraqi election monitors and other officials in visits to Iraq in coming weeks, and then rely on reports from them on Election Day. "When you are an electoral administrator, there are a lot things you can look at to give you an exceedingly good idea of what is going on, without actually being there."

That probably means the only monitors will be Iraqis, adding another layer of complexity to already-troubled elections. Three election officials were dragged from their car and assassinated Sunday, raising fears that voters may become targets on Election Day. Significant numbers of Sunni Arabs may boycott the elections, which could jeopardize the legitimacy of the results. In parts of the nation, mostly Sunni areas, officials have not been able to open voter registration offices.

Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, which is under government contract to help train thousands of Iraqis as monitors, said international monitors "promote participation, deter fraud and promote confidence." Ms. Perelli, leader of the U.N.'s electoral assistance division, said she could not recall another significant case when important elections had no international observers. Mexico prohibited international observation in 1994, she said. International observers were confined to the capital in the 2000 Ivory Coast elections, and in the Afghan elections this fall. "Obviously Iraq is an extreme case," she said in an interview. "All I can do is plead."

Leslie Campbell, director of the democratic institute's Middle East programs and a participant in the closed meeting in Canada, said he said he urged the body to place its headquarters in Baghdad. "If elections officials are risking their lives, if politicians and election monitors are risking their lives, then election observers should be there, too," he said.

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